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Creating of “The Symphonic Body” at UCLA (2015) Pt 1
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“Few artists are so able and even willing to bridge the gap between art and the everyday at such a high level, but Ms. Carlson does so by documenting life’s beauty and absurdity.”
– Gia Kourlas, The New York Times
“Ann Carlson is a conceptual artist who uses gesture, text and humor to break your heart.”
– William Harris, New York Times
“Carlson’s work mines the ephemeral and the commonplace toward extraordinary results.”
Doggie Hamlet is a full-length outdoor performance spectacle that weaves dance, visual and theatrical elements with aspects from competitive sheep herding trials. The work is performed by two women, two men, a boy, three herding dogs and a flock of sheep. Doggie Hamlet recalls the bucolic impression of a landscape painting and or a 3D pastoral poem. The sheep, the dogs, the human performers, and the earth’s surface are at once performing as themselves and as living symbols in this work. Through story, motion, site and stillness Doggie Hamlet explores instinct, sentience, attachment and loss.
The presentations of Doggie Hamlet was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Dumbo Redacted is a solo stage-based work choreographed and performed by Ann Carlson. It is informed by the movement and mythologies surrounding earth’s largest land mammal. Set inside a circus ring and caught in a story out of sequence and out of date, Dumbo Redacted plays with clumsy grace and wild quiet as it collides and colludes with time, gravity, fury, and redemption.
The Symphonic Body is a performance built entirely from gestures. It is a movement based orchestral work performed by the people who work, in an academic institution, or a major corporation, in a factory, an arts organization, a foundation, a small business, or as part of a start up enterprise. Instead of instruments, individuals in this orchestra perform gestural portraits based on the motions of their workday. These portraits are individual dances, custom made for each person, choreographed from the movements they already do. Whether looking at a computer screen, sitting in a meeting, creating curriculum, rehearsing a dance, returning books to the library, translating the intuitive, discussing a preemie, or pruning a palm tree, these are the moments upon which this work is built. The Symphonic Body is a window into the breadth of human labor and activity that animates any given work environment. By engaging with this choreographic performance practice participants come together in concert to expand, renew and re-experience the artistry embedded in the everyday.
The Symphonic Body builds on a practice Ms. Carlson has been engaged with for more than 25 years. She has made performance works with people gathered together by a common profession or activity or shared passion. Lawyers, security officers, nuns, fly fisherman, custodians, a farmer and her dairy cows, physicians, poker players, cowboys, development directors, among others, have performed in this series of works.
The Symphonic Body is a transformational performance experience. It is a dialogue between embrace and surrender. For example, at Stanford University where the work premiered, whether it is a performance studies professor or a tree trimmer, each takes up, or embraces, her identity as a professor or as a gardener as the context of this performance. This (self) embracing draws metaphor and meaning from the surroundings of the everyday. But during the making of the performance the embrace gives way to a surrender, there is a letting go of the individual identity into an experience of being part of something larger than the self. The particular choreographed gestures themselves become part of a larger movement tapestry within each performer and within the piece as a whole. So, these works, performed by the actual individuals who live with these gestures (as opposed to only trained performers taking on the gestures of other people) exist in this tension between embrace and surrender, giving rise to questions about what constitutes humanity and aliveness in a given moment.
Stanford’s The Symphonic Body included 78 people from across the campus and was developed over one year. Stanford’s Symphonic Body performance ran 33 minutes in length- an inverse reference to John Cage’s seminal work, “4:33” which is performed in silence. The length of each Symphonic Body will be customized according to the tailored residency created by Ann Carlson for each organization/institution.
Ann Carlson dances with a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog, a chicken, 2 baby goats, and a gold fish in her 40-minute work created for 1-4 year olds, Animal Dance. Each animal magically enters the stage space on their own. Ann responds to each animal’s inherent dance, improvising a singular dance and special song for each animal. Directed by Peter Brosius (Children’s Theater Company, Minneapolis), Animal Dance was created for audiences up to 120 in scale and celebrates the spirit that all movement is dance.
Animal Dance is available for a minimum of 3 days of shows with a load-in/tech/rehearsal advance of 2 days before the first day of shows. 2 and 3 show days are possible. Presenters/venues will supply and care for the animals (with guidance!) Ann will tour with another performer who will share the schedule of performances with her.
American Theater article about Animal Dance: http://elsieman.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/at_apr16_animal_dance.pdf
CTC archived weblink about Animal Dance: https://www.childrenstheatre.org/about-us/newsfeed/896-what-is-animal-dance-all-about
Ann Carlson’s artistic work borrows from the disciplines of dance, performance, theater, as well as visual, conceptual and social art practices. Her work takes the form of solo dance performance, site-specific performance projects, ensemble dance works, and performance/video. Carlson often works within a series format, and develops performance structures over a period of years that adapt to multiple sites. Carlson is adept at working with a wide variety of people. Whether with lawyers, security guards, fly-fisherman, ranchers, ballet dancers, professors, or gardeners, her work addresses the biases and boundaries, stereotypes and striations of contemporary culture.
Carlson is the recipient of numerous awards and over thirty commissions for her artistic work. Awards include: Creative Capital Award, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, Two American Masters, numerous Creative Capital MAPfund awards; a Rockefeller Seed Grant; a USA Artist Fellowship; a Guggenheim Fellowship; a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship; a MANCC’s Living Legacy Artist; and a Fellowship from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, among others. She was an artist fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship/Harvard University. Carlson has received three awards from the National Choreographic Initiative; a Doris Duke Award for New Work; the first Cal/Arts Alpert Award in Choreography; and a prestigious three-year choreographic fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Carlson completed a residency hosted by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island, Florida and most recently was in residence at Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, sponsored by the Center for the Art of Performance, at UCLA.
Carlson’s current projects include; “The Symphonic Body” a performance made entirely of gestures, “Doggie Hamlet” a site specific spectacle performed by a flock of sheep, three herding dogs and six human performers, “Dumbo Redacted”, a solo made and performed by Carlson, inspired by earth’s largest land mammal, and the end of Ringling Bros Circus. Carlson’s latest project is a series of duets for women and their dogs entitled “Femme d’un certain âge avec son chien.”
Carlson’s recent collaborative projects include “Elizabeth, the dance” made with the Ririe -Woodbury Dance Company, of Salt Lake City UT, “Animal Dance” a dance for very young audience members made with Children’s Theater Company, Minneapolis, Carlson’s long time collaboration with video maker Mary Ellen Strom resulted in the creation of a number of single channel performance videos (“Madame 710”, “Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore”, “Four Parallel Lines” among others) that are held in several private and museum collections.
Carlson has taught choreography and performance in universities around the US and Mexico, including Stanford, Princeton and Wesleyan Universities, as well as the University of Minnesota, and currently at UCLA and UC Riverside.